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How to make Armagnac - The distillation method

The wines of armagnac are fairly basic, in itself no bad thing. The traditional winemakers eschew the use of sugar, sulphur dioxide and other additives, instead relying on the natural yeasts in the grapes. Unlike the Cognaçaise, wines in Armagnac may be pressed with the continuous presses which are forbidden in Cognac. These are often clumsily operated and allow through pips, skins and other impurities which in many cases further improve the richness of the spirit. This is further assured by the use of the continuous still which allows the spirit to be made without having to stop and recharge the vessel as in Cognac.

The wine is heated to 80 degrees Celsius and runs into the upper half of the still, then flows over a series of plates clashing with the alcohol vapours produced by the heated wine in the lower half of the still. This clash allows the vapours to absorb some of the qualities and the congeners of the incoming wine. The lower the plates the hotter they are, thereby ridding the descending wine of its alcohol content as it reaches the lower still (which contains wine boiling at around 103 degrees Celsius).

The vinasses, the solid residue of distillation are evacuated through a pipe at the lower half of the still; the têtes can be taken off from the head of the chauffe-vin. Despite this attempt at purification, the armagnac method is unique among continuous systems, producing a spirit which is potentially richer in congeners, and in fruity and esterish flavours than the stronger spirit made in orthodox pot-stills. This is especially the case in the older, smaller stills, in which the spirit emerges at a mere 52 per cent alcohol (at least 15 percent lower than that of cognac).

The distillation at the lower end of the range of 52-72 degrees means that the vapour in the still contains a far greater quantity of wine flavours mixed in with the spirit than cognacs, which are distilled in the pot-stills in the controlled range of 67-72 degrees. It is this particular quality which is largely responsible for the fruity flavours of armagnacs, which are best noted for their prune like flavours.